How to Cope with a Client’s Inappropriate Questions

Have you ever been asked an inappropriate or even illegal question in a job interview? It’s happened to me on occasion, and unfortunately both times the interview was for a job at a law firm. (You would think legal types would know better, but apparently they don’t.)

One person interviewing me asked if I was married, and then caught himself and said that he probably couldn’t ask me that question. The other time was much more blatant and I was really shocked that it was a woman asking me if I planned to have children in the next year or two. She made it worse by going on to explain that it would “not be a good idea for me to do so.”

After a momentary flash in my mind’s eye of the Pregnancy Police checking to make sure all female staff members keep replenishing their supplies of feminine products in a desk drawer, I concluded that this was not the right place where I could do my best work.

Answering questions from prospective clients is a bit different. Since we are business owners, not job applicants, the line is a bit murkier about which questions may be considered illegal. If a prospective client is treading into territory that makes you feel uncomfortable before you start working together, then you probably shouldn’t expect that person to behave better once you have accepted the freelance writing gig.

While I don’t mind if someone asks me if Jodee is my real name (it is), I have to draw the line when someone wants to get too personal in their questions. No one who wants to hire me for a freelance writing job needs to know my marital status or if I have children unless it is relevant to the work we are discussing.

How do you deflect questions that may be overstepping the bounds without walking away from the opportunity completely? You answer the question the client is really asking. It could go something like this: “If what you are trying to find out is whether I can commit to your project, the answer is yes.” You still have the option of stepping back from your discussion and deciding whether you want to work with that client after all, but this type of non-confrontational answer gives you the time to decide what your next move should be.

How do you deal with inappropriate questions from freelance writing clients?


4 responses
  1. Tee Avatar

    I had someone ask me to sign a non-compete agreement for a freelance job, which I also thought was an inappropriate question.

    Maybe not if it was confined to this person’s actual clients, but he wanted me to bar me from working for “all current, past and potential clients and all businesses that are similar in my state during and for 12 months after terminating work.”

    I don’t know what this guy’s “agenda” is or was, but I’m guessing he makes a living out of suing people.

    NEVER sign one of these for a freelance assignment, unless the clients makes it very clear that it applies to the client that was assigned to you, and that’s IT.

    1. Tee Avatar

      Sorry about the typos! I hit enter and accidentally sent this off before reading it.


  2. Rob Avatar

    You have an uncanny way of posting questions as they arise in my personal/professional life. I have been asked to collaborate on a non-fiction book and the other party asked me for a brief autobiography and my personal views on politics, economics and other issues. I was tempted to be careful with my words, but then decided to give him the unvarnished truth. I think honesty is always the best policy. Who wants to work with or for somebody who wants you to be something or someone you’re not?

    I got the gig, by the way.

  3. Jodee Redmond Avatar
    Jodee Redmond

    @ Tee: Reading the contract is very important. It does seem like that one was more than a bit unreasonable in its terms.
    @Rob: Either I’m psychic or we’re sharing the same brain. 😉 I agree – being yourself is the best policy. This person may have just been trying to get to know you. Glad to hear you got the gig.

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